The Rise of the Full-Time Instagrammer: Why Brands Pay for Photos From Everyday Celebrities

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Lindsay Kolowich Cox
Lindsay Kolowich Cox



Patrick Janelle has a dream job.

That's the first thing I thought to myself when I heard him tell the audience at Social Media Week NYC that he is a full-time Instagrammer.

Yup, that's right: Thanks to an extensive background in graphic design and a very high follower count, Patrick's full-time job is to do cool things and go to cool places, take beautiful pictures of his experiences, and post them to his personal Instagram account, @aguynamedpatrick.

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 The pictures he posts are a mix of the unbranded content that led to his Instagram popularity, and pictures he now posts to promote brands he's partnered with, like Hyatt, Equinox, and Thom Browne.

Patrick, who currently goes by the moniker "Man About Town," is what's called an "Instagram influencer." Since joining Instagram in April 2012, he's accumulated over 361,000 followers (and counting) and built a strong personal brand around showcasing a New York City lifestyle filled with food, fashion, and travel.

His posts are editorialized, of course. "I'm not showing the dirty dishes in my kitchen sink," he told us in New York. "But it's authentic. I like to post in real time, in a chronological manner, to document what I'm doing at the moment." To Patrick, Instagram is a kind of chronological journal of his activities and lifestyle -- a lifestyle he calls "aspirational, but accessible."

Most importantly, though, he exerts influence over his hundreds of thousands of followers, making him an attractive partner for brands looking to experiment with paid sponsored campaigns on Instagram. For example, he started the hashtag #dailycortado (referring to a type of espresso drink cut with warm milk, often drizzled on top in an artistic design) that now has over 26,000 mentions on Instagram from people all over the world.

Harnessing Influence on Instagram

The powerful voice Patrick has among his niche audience is exactly why brands seek him out to create content for them. You see, in marketing terms, companies want to partner with Patrick because his followers align with the businesses' key buyer personas -- they have similar demographics, habits, and interests.

Patrick told us, for example, about the Instagram-only campaign called #Zoomingdales that he did with Bloomingdale's, a store that sells designer brand name clothes, accessories, and gifts. It featured a series of "gift guide collages" meant to "show the breadth of the Bloomingdale's assortment," Bloomingdale's VP of Social Jonathan Paul told WWD.

The company solicited Patrick to create, capture, and post his own gift guide collages, where he would arrange Bloomingdale's items with his own, personal items to tell a story. In the post below, Patrick's picture tells the story of cozying up and watching a holiday movie at home.

He styled that image carefully to give context to Bloomingdale's products, which would otherwise be viewed by themselves in a store or on a web browser.

Why was a partnership with an Instagram influencer like Patrick a great move for Bloomingdale's here? Because Patrick's Instagram photos showcase a lifestyle shared by Bloomingdale's target audience -- and Instagram is a perfect stage to showcase that lifestyle. In addition to reach, the Instagram platform allows for creative storytelling through photos.

Influencers like Patrick can position different products and places inside their own worlds. Their audiences see value in these products and places because they're seeing them in the context of a lifestyle they're familiar with. They relate to it.

In other cases, brands solicit Patrick to take pictures that he sends to the brand's social media team, who then posts that picture to their Instagram account. For example, last summer, Capital One teamed up with Travel & Leisure Magazine to launch an Instagram campaign called #BucketList, where they encouraged their followers to make travel bucket lists, make them a reality, and document their travels on Instagram using the #BucketList hashtag.

To jumpstart the campaign, they hired three Instagrammers in three U.S. cities -- New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco -- to take beautiful photos of their cities for Capital One's Instagram account. Patrick represented New York City, and his job was to document some of his favorite places and use the caption to connect the bank's brand to the idea of exploring a city and breaking new ground.

Here's an example of a picture Patrick took for Capital One's Instagram account:

"It wasn't just a one-off thing," said Patrick. "I posted somewhere between five and seven photos over the course of a few months. It was powerful for Capital One and Travel & Leisure to be seen over and over on my feed. I had an ongoing, long-term relationship with the brands."

What Makes a Campaign Successful?

After hearing about a few of the campaigns Patrick worked on -- including those for Bloomingdale's, Capital One, Boathouse Farms, Orbitz, PayPal, and most recently, Equinox -- I wondered how these brands were measuring the success of Patrick's campaigns. After all, a barrier of entry to working with him is that he must be able to do all his own creative direction. With that much autonomy, is Patrick responsible for any metrics or results from the campaigns?

"No," he said, frankly. "I often don't hear back from the brands about the outcome other than they were happy with the posts."

Of course, every brand has different goals for each campaign, whether it's building a following on their own brand's Instagram account, driving traffic to a particular product, or promoting brand awareness in general. Patrick believes it's brand awareness that motivates most of the brands he works with -- which is where the caption becomes particularly important, he says.

"[By writing captions,] I put context on everything I'm doing. It's about creating more than just a beautiful image; it's about creating a world that all these images are living in."

And he never hides when his posts are the result of a partnership; in fact, he's quite candid about it. For example, one of his more recent partnerships is with Equinox for their "Truth or EMMDI" campaign. EMMDI stands for "Equinox Made Me Do It," and the campaign plays off the popular game of "Truth or Dare" by encouraging people to push themselves outside their comfort zones and document it. In a recent Instagram post, Patrick's caption reads: "This week, my @Equinox partnership challenged me to make a dramatic change. Here it is: Not usually one for diets, I'm going full-on paleo for a week to see just how much it rocks my world. #TruthOrEMMDI."

Pretty straightforward. Patrick admits he's "kind of a purest." He takes photos only on his iPhone, uses hashtags for categorization reasons only, and always geotags his location. "I use the tools the way they were meant to be used."

He's Not Alone

Patrick certainly isn't the only Instagram influencer posting on behalf of brands. Nowadays, it's fairly common practice for brands and publishers to work with Instagram users who've accumulated large followings.

A Brooklyn-based man named Ike Edeani quit his graphic design job to pursue photography full-time, which includes the photos he takes and posts on Instagram for his 538,000 followers. According to the VentureBeatEdeani is "regularly approached by ad agencies and brands willing to pay him hundreds of dollars to photograph their products on Instagram."

San Francisco-based Darren Lachtman runs accounts on behalf of his dog, a Brussels Griffon known to his 52,000 Instagram followers as Biggie Smalls the Notorious D.O.G. According to the New York Times, he's famous for posting "punny posts with rap lyrics" and is paid by brands like BarkBox, a subscription service for dog owners, to post pictures promoting their brand.

The brand/influencer partnership is an age-old concept, but forming partnerships with popular Instagrammers is still in its early stages. Perhaps soon, we'll see brands experimenting with similar approaches on SnapChat, Meerkat, and other emerging platforms. After all, the best marketers go where their audience is -- and maybe, the best way to reach them is by teaming up with a social media celebrity.

Featured Image Credit: Patrick Janelle

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